Tuesday, November 29, 2011
X-37B mission extended by U.S.A.F.
Air Force officials are normally very tight-lipped about their X-37B, a robotic mini-shuttle that was originally intended for manned missions by NASA before being pressed into flying classified missions, but they have confirmed the spacecraft’s present mission has been extended.
The experimental craft has been circling Earth for about nine months, but had been expected to land this week at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Today an Air Force official confirmed that the mission will be extended and a future landing date has not yet been slated, according to the Associated Press.
The space plane resembles a smaller version of the space shuttle, and the one presently in orbit is the second one to be flown. The first one landed itself last December after more than seven months in orbit. The Air Force has said the second mission was to further test the craft, but the ultimate purpose has largely remained a mystery.
The secretive X-37B robotic space plane is about to set its own space-endurance record on a hush-hush project operated by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
The craft, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle-2, was boosted into Earth orbit atop an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 5. Tomorrow (Nov. 30), the X-37B spacecraft will mark its 270th day of flight — a lifetime in space that was heralded in the past as the vehicle's upper limit for spaceflight by project officials.
"It's still up there," U.S. Air Force Maj. Tracy Bunko of the Air Force Press Desk at the Pentagon, told SPACE.com, noting that project officials planned for a 9- month-plus mission, "so we're close to that now."
The X-37B's staying power is made feasible by its deployable solar array power system, unfurled from the vehicle's cargo bay.
For now space watchers can only speculate on the craft’s mission and capabilities but many aerospace enthusiasts believe it is used for space-based reconnaissance and surveillance